The warm light of the morning sun spilled over the stone walkway as Melanie approached the porch steps, dragging her rolling suitcase behind her. Perfectly on cue, Lucas appeared in the doorway, rushing out onto the porch to take his wife’s bag.
“Welcome home, honey.” He leaned forward, kissing her gently and reaching down with a large warm hand, taking the handle of the suitcase from her grip.
Lucas had offered many times to drop her off and pick her up at the airport, but Melanie had insisted on driving herself and leaving her car in the parking garage for the week. It was nearly an hour drive to the airport from their house, and she didn’t want to be a burden to him. Of course, after now learning the hard way just how tiring a long morning of travel could be, Mel secretly wished she’d taken him up on the offer.
She followed her husband inside as he rolled her suitcase through the entryway and tucked it off to the side to unpack later. With both of their hands finally free, Melanie reached for Lucas eagerly – a gesture he seemed more than willing to return.
Mel sighed happily as she pulled her husband close to her, melting into his tight embrace. It felt amazing to finally be back home – and more importantly, back with him.
“I missed you.” She said softly, still holding him against her. “So much.”
“Me too.” Lucas whispered, his warm breath tickling her ear.
In their thirty years of marriage – Has it really been that long? – this past week had been the longest she and Lucas had ever spent apart. For the first few days, it was actually kind of nice… But she quickly found herself longing to be back home by his side.
He pressed his mouth gently against her neck for a few moments, eliciting yet another sigh from Mel’s lips. She could not help but feel a bit disappointed when he finally pulled away.
Her husband hesitated uncomfortably. “So… how was she?” Lucas asked nervously. “I mean, she sounded pretty good on the phone, but…”
His wife shook her head. Caroline had done well hiding just how bad things really were. But Mel could see it – there was something in her eyes, and the way she carried herself, no matter how brave of a face she put on.
“She’s definitely fading.” Mel said simply. “But… Gracefully, I guess.” She tried to smile, but failed. “It was really hard to say goodbye.” His wife confessed sadly.
Lucas’ face fell. “I can’t imagine.” He said seriously. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders. “But I’m so happy you were able to see her.”
Mel nodded. “Me too.” She replied. “She seems really at peace with the whole thing… Which is good, I guess.” She shrugged. “Oh!” Her face suddenly lit up. “That reminds me of something…”
Lucas eyed her uncertainly.
Melanie had been so happy to finally be back home that she nearly forgot to mention the bizarre conversation she’d had with Caroline on the last day of their visit.
“It was around the time I was getting ready to leave…” Mel began.
“I wish I could stay.” Mel said softly, hanging her head. The bedsprings creaked below her as she shifted her weight slightly. “I just hate knowing that this… Well… it’s probably the last time I’ll… I mean, we’ll…” She shook her head. It was still too difficult to say it aloud.
“Don’t think of it like that, then.” Caroline smiled warmly at her as she spoke. “There’s no way to know for certain anyway, right? So there’s no use worrying yourself about it.”
“I know.” Mel replied weakly. “But…”
“No matter how this all ends, everything will be okay, Mellie.” The old woman assured her. “You’ll see.”
Melanie almost smiled at the sound of the old nickname. Christian had been the only person who’d ever called her that, though his mother had started to pick up the habit herself long ago. Caroline still liked to use the name every now and then, and hearing it made Melanie feel warm and happy inside… Until she realized with a horrible, sinking feeling in her stomach that once Caroline was gone, no one would ever call her Mellie again.
“But… how can you be so calm about it?” Melanie asked softly, trying to hold back her tears. “Aren’t you afraid?” She sounded almost like a small child as she spoke, and could not help but feel a bit ashamed for even asking.
“Of dying?” Caroline laughed softly. “Oh goodness, no! I’m leaving with a lot of happy memories… And so much to be proud of.” The woman smiled. “And I’ll have so many people on the other side waiting for me… My parents, my brothers, Jimmy…” Her smile widened at the mention of her late husband. “My Christian, of course, and Evelyn… And so many other friends I’ve lost along the way.” She sighed wistfully. “It will be so wonderful to see them all again, after so long…”
“Evelyn?” Melanie repeated. “I’ve never heard you mention her before.”
Caroline nodded. “I haven’t told you about her? Oh, she was my best friend in the world when I was a girl. We were almost like sisters.” The woman smiled. “But she died, oh, let’s see…” She paused. “Over sixty years ago, now.” Caroline finished at last.
Mel looked at her, a bit surprised. “That’s so strange…” She said. “Lucas used to have a friend named Evelyn… And she passed away too, when she was very young… Sounds a lot like your friend.”
“Really?” Caroline looked suddenly amused, but Melanie could not figure out why. “It’s so funny that you’d mention him… I never said anything before – it just seemed kind of morbid, I suppose – but Lucas, he grew up in that big house on Driftwood Lane, right?”
“That’s where Evelyn lived.” She explained. “And died.” Caroline added, with just a touch of sadness. “And you say he knew an Evelyn who passed away too? Hmm… A little peculiar, isn’t it?”
Melanie didn’t know what to say. It was so strange. Almost eerily so. She wondered if Lucas ever knew about this. I’ll have to ask him when I get home…
“Really weird, right?” Mel finished. “Did you have any idea?” She asked.
Lucas suddenly appeared very uncomfortable. “I… I knew there’d been a fire a long time ago, yeah.” He said. “And I’d heard that some people died there, but…” Her husband shrugged. “I never knew their names or anything… I guess it’s kind of a funny coincidence though.” But his voice suggested that he found it to be anything but funny.
Melanie studied his face for a moment or two, but said nothing.
“What?” Lucas asked, his annoyance apparent in his tone.
“Nothing.” Mel said quickly. “I… I’m just so happy to be back. I was gone so long, I almost forgot what a handsome husband I’d be coming home to.” She added with a little smirk.
Lucas’ face relaxed, and he returned her smile as she leaned forward, kissing him gently on the cheek.
“Aaaaand…” Her smile widened. “I almost forgot what delicious food I’d be coming home to too…”
Her husband raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He asked. “Care for a little reminder?”
“Yes, please.” Mel laughed and watched as he hurried off into the kitchen where, she now noticed, he already had a mixing bowl and some ingredients waiting. He knows me way too well… She thought happily.
But as she replayed their conversation in her mind, Melanie’s face fell. The coincidence Caroline had revealed to her had been unusual enough, but it was Lucas’ reaction that truly puzzled her now. Mel knew that Evelyn had always been somewhat of a sore subject for her husband… But this felt different, somehow.
That was so weird… She thought to herself. Melanie hesitated for just a few more moments before finally shrugging off her concerns and heading to the bedroom to unpack while Lucas finished preparing their breakfast.